The New England Patriots are dealing with a pair of big-time absences on the defensive line. First, it was the ankle injury to defensive end Chandler Jones; add to that a four-game suspension for sub-rusher Jermaine Cunningham, who violated the league's performance-enhancing drug policy.
There are varying options on how the Patriots proceed from here.
Greg Bedard of The Boston Globe thinks linebacker Dont'a Hightower could fill in for Cunningham's role as an interior sub-package pass-rusher.
Hightower RT @philipjemiller: Could Spikes/Hightower play the Cunninghamrole on the line now?— Greg A. Bedard (@GregABedard) November 26, 2012
That would work in situations where the Patriots went with a 4-2-5 look, with four linemen and two linebackers in a nickel package.
Field Yates of ESPN Boston thinks Trevor Scott could be in line for an increased workload. Scott came in as a free agent from Oakland, where he contributed mainly as a pass-rushing specialist in a 4-3 scheme, though he also played some outside linebacker. He has played various spots on the defensive line, so his versatility could come in handy at a time like this.
It could also be a less heralded player; the Patriots have three rookies on the defensive line in Justin Francis, Jake Bequette and Marcus Forston. All three could contribute in a similar role to the one Cunningham played.
Cunningham has carved out quite a niche for himself as that interior pass-rusher on passing downs. He has 14 pressures, five hits and three sacks according to ProFootballFocus.com. He also hasn't sacrificed anything in run defense either, and has been credited with 15 "stops" (which constitute an offensive failure) on the season.
For a defense that has lacked severely in the pass-rushing department this year, the Patriots need to find an answer and quickly.
Here's some more news and analysis from around the AFC East.
New England Patriots
Bleacher Report featured columnist Alen Dumonjic breaks down how the Patriots became turnover machines.
Joe Caporoso of TurnOnTheJets.com discusses his thoughts on how to handle the offense in the final five games of the season.
Tim Graham of The Buffalo News takes a look at the AFC wild card race from a Bills perspective.
B/R featured columnist Thomas Galicia lists five reasons why the Bills must move on from Chan Gailey.
Ben Volin of The Palm Beach Post points out that the Dolphins still have a shot at the playoffs despite their 5-6 record.
Erik Frenz is the AFC East lead blogger for Bleacher Report. Be sure to follow Erik on Twitter and "like" the AFC East blog on Facebook to keep up with all the updates. Unless specified otherwise, all quotes are obtained via team press releases.
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